Brazil 0 France 1: Zidane regains mastery to tame Brazil

Pele looked bereft. His face was a mix of crushing disappointment and bewildered frustration. But when he spoke he articulated what everyone had witnessed. "Zidane is the master," he said. "Over the past 10 years, there's been no-one like him, he has been the best player in the world."

On Saturday evening, in Frankfurt, Zinedine Zidane was that again. There was something almost beatific in his performance. From the moment he walked slowly on to the pitch, with his eyes raised heavenwards, to when he finally departed, the first French player to leave following the final whistle, he was serene.

It was as if he was working in his own universe, on his own level. No one else came close to touching him, no one else appeared to be even playing the same game. And to think it could have been his 103rd and final appearance for France. Two years after he retired, only to return last autumn to lead his country to this tournament, Zidane, aged 34, will finally step down when their involvement in the competition ends.

"We don't want to stop now," he said afterwards. "This is so beautiful. We want it to carry on." France needed a "great match", Zidane added. He gave them that greatness. He did not so much roll back the years as banish them. There was no sign of age, of tiredness, of waning powers. Everything he did he did brilliantly, beautifully.

"Unfortunately for us he had a great match," the Brazilian midfielder Kaka, one of the many exalted names eclipsed by Zidane, said. "He's a truly great player. The fact that he's retiring is a great loss for the world of football."

In the press seats the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, commentating for French television, could barely contain himself. He, too, was lost in the emotion.

For France it was 1998 relived. Then, too, they were inspired by Zizou, with two headed goals, as they beat Brazil in the final in Paris. That was the last match in a World Cup finals that Brazil had lost. But 11 straight victories for the champions came to a shuddering halt this weekend and, with it, France became the first country to have beaten them three times in the World Cup (the other defeat came in the quarter-finals in 1986 on penalties). Brazil also failed to reach the last four for the first time since 1990.

Their coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, looked broken. A decision will be made on his future "in the next few days", but he is unlikely to remain in place having overseen an unconvincing campaign and faced fierce criticism over his team selections and tactics. But he, too, highlighted Zidane. "He made the difference, even more than in 1998," Parreira said. "This was probably his best performance in the last eight years. He showed a lot of personality and creativity."

There was another piece of history, and a strange one at that. Thierry Henry's 57th-minute goal, calmly and expertly volleyed in at the far post from a free-kick, was the first time that the striker had ever scored from a Zidane assist. With 184 caps between them, and 36 goals for Henry, that is an astonishing statistic and one that has preyed on everyone's minds.

But such constraints are now banished. France feel liberated. Their turgid progress through the group stages, following on from their sorry qualifying campaign and their abject defence of the title four years ago, feels like a very, very long time ago. After the rousing defeat of Spain, beating Brazil has brought the confidence flooding back. It was all they lacked.

"I know few players have ever won two World Cups but we are capable of it," said Patrick Vieira, one of six survivors from 1998. He was also full of praise for Zidane. "You only have to look at Zidane in training to know that he is still in a great physical shape but he has made his decision to retire and we respect that," he said while Henry added: "Zizou played so well. He drove us on."

The contrast with Ronaldinho could not have been sharper. This was supposed to be the 26-year-old's World Cup yet he leaves it having failed to make any impression whatsoever. Partly he was hampered by Brazil's unbalanced formation but such a great player should have been able to rise above that. In the end he was simply bypassed and looked desperately short of confidence. It's over a year since he scored for his country.

Hopefully, Brazil will now regroup and build their team around him, give him the platform he deserves, and also continue to encourage Robinho. Despite their ageing side they have, as ever, a bright future.

But, suddenly, France do too. In Franck Ribéry and Florent Malouda they had vibrancy and youth to add to their experience while William Gallas was formidable in defence.

Brazil rarely looked like scoring. Even a desperate late flurry was repelled while, for France, Henry missed with a header, Vieira with another and Ribéry was swiftly denied by goalkeeper Dida before Louis Saha wasted a late opportunity.

They were, indeed, the worthiest of winners and will now meet Portugal in Munich on Wednesday. "We're not here to dream. We're here to achieve," Henry said.

That's true but, with Zidane back to his best, they can still provide fantasy football.

Brazil (4-2-2-2): Dida; Cafu (both Milan), Lucio (Bayern Munich), Juan (Bayer Leverkusen), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid); Gilberto Silva (Arsenal), Ze Roberto (Bayern Munich); Kaka (Milan), Juninho Pernambucano (Lyon); Ronaldinho (Barcelona), Ronaldo (Real Madrid). Substitutes used: Adriano (Internazionale) for Juninho, 63; Cicinho (Real Madrid) for Cafu, 76; Robinho (Real Madrid) for Kaka , 79.

France (4-5-1): Barthez (Marseilles); Sagnol (Bayern Munich), Gallas (Chelsea), Thuram (Juventus), Abidal (Lyon); Ribéry (Marseilles), Makelele (Chelsea), Vieira (Juventus), Zidane (Real Madrid), Malouda (Lyon); Henry (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Govou (Lyon) for Ribéry, 77; Wiltord (Lyon) for Malouda, 81; Saha (Manchester United) for Henry, 86.

Booked: Brazil Cafu (25), Juan (44), Ronaldo (45), Lucio (75); France Sagnol (74), Saha (87), Thuram (88).

Referee: L Medina Cantalejo (Spain)

Man of the match: Zidane.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'